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FBI Hits the Road for the Missing Missing

The FBI has publicized a program it's had active for the past five years, a 'Highway Serial Killers Initiative,' with both its own release and a fascinating story by the Los Angeles Times' Scott Glover.

The upshot is that there are a lot of unsolved murders out there, and many of them may be traced to people whose livelihoods revolve around long-distance driving, like truckers. As the FBI puts it in a surprisingly readable press release:

"The victims in these cases are primarily women who are living high-risk, transient lifestyles, often involving substance abuse and prostitution. They're frequently picked up at truck stops or service stations and sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped along a highway.

"The suspects are predominantly long-haul truck drivers. But the mobile nature of the offenders, the unsafe lifestyles of the victims, the significant distances and multiple jurisdictions involved, and the scarcity of witnesses or forensic evidence can make these cases tough to solve."

The initiative reminds us of Lewis Beale's piece of more than a year ago on the "Missing Missing," those people whose absence doesn't set off any alarm bells in society — and law enforcement — as a whole.

As Lewis wrote, Kenna Quinet, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, refers to these victims as the "missing missing," transients on the lower rung of society whose absence seems to go unnoted. Quinet told, "You can't kill 50 CEOs, cops or professors in the U.S. There would be a whole SWAT mentality; we would hunt you down."

Quinet saw that individuals — whether they were prostitutes, people in nursing homes, runaways or folks with warrants out for their arrest — could turn up missing or dead and the furor was relatively muted. She called for better awareness by social service agencies of these people on the margins, so that the missing would be missed.

The FBI approached the same idea from the other end, collecting statistics on all the "found" missing — found in the sense that their bodies were dumped along the nation's highways — and worked backward.

Analysts for its Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP, "created a national matrix of more than 500 murder victims from along or near highways, as well as a list of some 200 potential suspects." The FBI reports that as a result of the program, 10 suspects they've linked to 30 killings are in custody.